CAPS Artist Interview – Lawrence Heyda

Laurence Heyda

1. How did you find out about the CAPS program?

I receive the Durham Arts Council newsletter, and I saw the opportunity of applying for the Caps program. My sister has been teaching watercolor painting in schools for years, and she encouraged me to try my hand at teaching. I’m very glad she did!

2. What inspired you to join the CAPS program?

I’ve been too shut away in my little studio. I barely knew any other artists in the area and whatever I’ve learned in the course of my long career has only stayed tucked away with me. I felt that it was time to share the knowledge I’ve gathered over the past 50 years with some eager young artists who might benefit from my experience.

3. What have you enjoyed most about CAPS so far?

The kids! They are fresh, inquisitive and inherently CREATIVE! It’s a joy to see their faces light up with the zeal of bringing a sculpture to life in their little hands. I really wasn’t sure what chemistry would develop between me and the students, but it seems that they like learning from me (even if I have to shout), and I certainly enjoy sharing my techniques with them. I found the students in both the third grade and the 7th grade classes very eager to grasp new skills and develop their own creations with them.

4. Can you tell us about the project you facilitated with Veterans at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in October?

The veterans are a very special group of men and women. They have seen things and experienced things that the rest of us haven’t. Artistic expression is one means many have found to deal with their own experiences and to make something fresh, new and vital as a declaration of their positive approach to life. I was personally inspired to meet so many men and women at the workshop who were true individuals, who impressed on me a sense of rugged independence in their attitude toward life. A number of the veterans wore Native American decorations on their person, or displayed tattoos expressing their devotion to God and a lifestyle of freedom from conformity. My class was focused on giving them the pleasure of creating a head in polymer clay, which could be baked and hardened by the end of the workshop. I spent over a week beforehand making a multicolored base for each of the veterans engraved with the name of the National Veterans Arts Festival. Their finished sculptures were inserted into the base so they could take them home to display them and remember the festival. It was amazing to witness the broad range of pieces that evolved during that class- everything from an American eagle (highly detailed) to serious portraits, a miniature motorcycle and a Florida flamingo.

5. Tell us a little about your background -how did you get involved in sculpture, miniatures, and working on movies?

I was always drawing, even as a child. During college I made extra money doing charcoal portraits in the sorority houses. The University of Illinois had a good art department. Though I majored in Painting, sculpture seemed to come easily to me and after I graduated I found work at Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, CA. They had me making wax statues of Lorne Green, George C. Scott, Johnny Cash and many other heroes of the American screen. Figurine companies like the Franklin Mint, Chilmark Pewter and the Noble Collection hired me to do miniatures of John Wayne, numerous Civil War heroes, baseball players and Lord of the rings characters. It was an enjoyable ride. A friend of mine was making dummies for the movies, and he asked me to make the heads. I would make a mold of some actor’s face to create a mask for a stunt man, or a rubber head to be used on a dummy that fell out of a window or got bashed by a car. They sent me to NY to the hotel room of Wesley Snipes to make a mold of his face for a movie called Money Train. Or I was flown by seaplane to an island off Vancouver to photograph and copy the lead dog in Far From Home. But the best opportunity that came along was a request from the Reagan Library to supply a bronze bust of the president. I was able to photograph Mr. Reagan in his offices in Century City, CA, and, later, to present the first finished casting to Mrs. Reagan. She commented that it was the best likeness ever done of her husband.

Religious figures have also been a focus for me, and there are churches and temples in the far corners of the world with statues from our studio. One church in Greensboro recently hired me to make a large crucifix. They were pleased with this sculpture and have now asked me to make a copy of a large 15th century religious painting to grace their alter. So now, 46 years after I graduated in Painting, I will again be applying brush to canvas (a big canvas) to copy Rogier Van Der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross.

6. What is one piece of advice you’d give young people wanting to make a career in the arts?

There has been a renaissance in teaching art as it was taught in the European academies of the 18th and 19th centuries. More and more schools are popping up which are dedicated to training students in the fine art of realistic painting and sculpture. I wish I had had the opportunity to attend a school like these. So I would strongly recommend any young student who seriously wants to be an artist to find a school like this, that has a rigorous curriculum in drawing, anatomy, classical painting and modeling. Other schools will teach creativity first and foremost, but I believe it is better to obtain a thorough working knowledge of the venerable craft of a painting and sculpture before indulging in wild creativity. Even Picasso was a trained realist before he evolved into the abstract genius he became. A good artist or a good musician must first build a solid foundation in the language of his art- then he or she can expand on this with that creative zeal which is in his nature.